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Olympic golds online, if not in competition

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Chloe Kim of the United States during her halfpipe gold medal run in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 13. According to Twitter, Kim had 15,000 followers before her tweet about skipping breakfast that day, and 100,000 new followers after it.

The Olympic motto may be “higher, faster, stronger.” But the way the 2018 Pyeongchang Games have transpired it may as well be meh, nah, really?

With only a couple of days left, the United States’ medal count of 21 is behind the 28 it won at the 2014 Sochi Games. NBC’s prime-time ratings are down, too — about 16 percent from four years ago — though, for the first time, the network is streaming Winter Olympics events live, which has helped to keep that viewership drop to 8 percent overall.

But another barometer could be telling, too, of the Olympics’ popularity: Most of the viral hits online from the games, according to data from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and CrowdTangle, an analytics tool owned by Facebook, have little to do with athletic achievement. These heavily circulated snapshots have focused instead more on the quirky personalities, underdog efforts and curious moments that have always been a part of the Olympics but now spread to a wider audience.

Of the accounts that CrowdTangle tracks, some of the top Facebook posts (those that see lots of likes, comments, shares and clicks) from Feb. 9 to 21 included memes (a spoof of figure skating routines), a look at the synchronized drones from the opening ceremony, a video of a woman “practicing” the sport of curling with a Roomba, and two trailers for “The Incredibles 2,” which premiered during the games.

While the Roomba curler did indeed “hurry hard,” here are the other Olympians who managed to get a lot of attention, but perhaps not always in the way they intended.

CHLOE KIM AND RED GERARD

Red Gerard and Chloe Kim, both 17, won gold medals. Gerard aced his slopestyle snowboard performance, becoming the youngest snowboarding gold medalist. Kim, who missed qualifying for the 2014 Olympics because she was too young, easily won the halfpipe snowboard competition.

But let’s just say they are also very much teenagers.

Gerard stayed up late watching “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” on Netflix and slept through his alarm the day of his gold medal run. He called his morning “hectic.”

After winning the gold, he promptly let out an expletive heard on television. The internet found its first hero of the games.

For her part, Kim did not finish her breakfast sandwich the morning of her event, tweeting she was “hangry” (a combination of hungry and angry) minutes before her gold medal performance.

According to Twitter, Kim had 15,000 followers before the tweet, and 100,000 new followers after it.

ADAM RIPPON AND GUS KENWORTHY

Neither figure skater Adam Rippon nor skier Gus Kenworthy was favored to win a gold medal before the games. But both had garnered news media attention as openly gay, outspoken members of the U.S. team. Before the U.S. delegation entered the opening ceremony, which Vice President Mike Pence attended, Kenworthy tweeted:

“We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.”

It went viral.

Four days later, after winning a bronze medal in the figure skating team competition — and incurring the wrath of internet trolls — Rippon wrote on Twitter:

“To all those who tweet at me saying that they ‘hope I fail,’ I have failed many times, many times in my life. But more importantly, I’ve learned from every setback, proudly own up to my mistakes, grown from disappointments, and now I’m a glamazon bitch ready for the runway.”

Another viral moment.

Rippon and Kenworthy then received the ultimate good-luck charm and another bump of social excitement: a tweet from Britney Spears.

Kenworthy had a disappointing 12th-place finish, but found his own shining moment. Unbeknown to him, cameras caught him kissing his boyfriend.

“That’s not something I had as a kid,” Kenworthy told New York Times reporter Karen Crouse. “I didn’t see a gay athlete at the Olympics kissing their boyfriend. I think if I had, it would have made it a lot easier for me.”

GERMAN MADRAZO AND PITA TAUFATOFUA

In the men’s 15-kilometer cross-country race, Dario Cologna of Switzerland won the gold, Simen Hegstad Kruger of Norway took silver and Denis Spitsov, a Russian, earned the bronze.

But it was the last finishers — not the first — who created the race’s most memorable moment. They included Pita Taufatofua of Tonga, Sebastian Uprimny of Colombia and, por fin, German Madrazo of Mexico. Madrazo told reporters he had learned to ski only a year ago. Taufatofua skied on snow for the first time a few months before the games.

The group lifted Madrazo on its shoulders when he crossed the finish line almost 26 minutes after Cologna won the race.

The underdogs instantly became fan favorites and a symbol of the Olympics, which posted a photo of Madrazo carrying the Mexican flag on its social media accounts, where it generated tens of thousands of likes.

SHAUN WHITE

When halfpipe snowboard king Shaun White regained his Olympic crown, he also returned to the top of social. But not only for his performance.

According to CrowdTangle, four of the top 15 Instagram posts on the Olympics were posted by Shaun White. From Feb. 9 to 21, White was the most talked about athlete on Facebook, according to the company. (Facebook will release more complete data after the conclusion of the games.) White was also the most mentioned athlete on Facebook during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, even though he failed to win a medal.

But the discussion this time was not all about White’s athletic achievements. On the heels of his gold medal performance, he was asked about past sexual harassment allegations. Those allegations, and his responses, kept him in the limelight online in the days after his win.

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